Transformation Starts With Data
Charles Kuralt once remarked that New York isn’t really a big city at all, but a lot of small villages sitting right next to one another, each one fairly oblivious to the others. The same can be said for countries and industries. We tend to create our own microcosms.
That kind of thing becomes more clear when you go from one culture to another. Switch countries—or even industries—and it quickly strikes you how people can have vastly different perspectives about the world, which can lead to serious problems.
Companies have similar challenges. Managers use data to recognize emerging patterns in the marketplace and then coordinate the actions of all the disparate villages within their enterprise. Clearly, as the world becomes more volatile, there’s a need to change how our organizations manage information. Recently, I talked to a company which is doing just that.
An Unlikely Entrepreneur
Christian Gheorghe has spent his life crossing cultures. Growing up in communist Romania, he learned English by listening to Pink Floyd albums. After getting a Masters degree in engineering, he swam across the Danube and kept going till he reached the US, where he became a limousine driver and eventually a successful technology entrepreneur.
His first business, which he started with a man he met driving limos, was sold to Experian for $32 million. Later, he created a new company that eventually became the predictive analytics powerhouse, OutlookSoft. In 2007, it was sold to SAP for several hundred million dollars and Gheorghe joined the enterprise software firm as CTO.
Yet although he was now firmly ensconced in the technology establishment, there was still something of a revolutionary in him. Much like in his native Romania, he saw that systems were designed not for the many, but the few. So in 2009, he escaped once again and founded Tidemark, a firm that is seeking to revolutionize enterprise software.
The Rise of the Enterprise
The toughest job for any manager is simply to know what’s going on. Early titans like Vanderbilt and Carnegie thrived through better systems and organization, which enabled them to keep track of resources—like cash and materials—as well as commitments on those resources, such as payroll, accounts payable and customer orders.
Yet as enterprises grew, systems became far too big and complex to be managed by humans alone and in the 90’s Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP) rose to prominence. Companies like SAP and Oracle have spent the last few decades building ERP into entire suites that have effectively become central nervous systems for large firms.
Eventually, they saw the need to integrate analytical capabilities into ERP software, which is why SAP bought Gheorghe’s company and how he became CTO. Yet once he was there, he saw that enterprise software was, all too often, creating its own villages that restricted the flow of information and undermined operational effectiveness.
The systems were so complicated that they often took years to install throughout the organization and trained specialists were needed to operate them. Managers could get the information they needed and even use the data to run analyses on various scenarios, but the process was cumbersome, slow and difficult.
Transforming The Enterprise
In the 1960’s Thomas Kuhn observed that most of what we do is based on past assumptions. Yet as further discoveries make those foundations untenable, tensions build and a paradigm shift takes place. A few years back, I described how emerging forces were building in technology that would change it forever.
The cloud, along with an explosion of mobile devices has made even supercomputers an inherently democratic resource. Semantic technologies have enabled us to link data not only within an enterprise, but throughout the world. These forces have transformed organizations, creating the need for more collaboration between humans and machines.
Gheorghe designed his new software so that enterprises could stop fighting these powerful new trends and profit from them instead. Tidemark is cloud based, so there is no need for long and complex installations. It is also designed to be mobile first, so it can be accessed by anyone in the organization at anytime.
Yet what really makes Tidemark different is not its features, but its overall vision. It’s designed to be user-friendly, with a highly intuitive, visual interface. It also allows you to easily integrate external data sources through API’s and includes predictive analytics so that you can model the impact of various scenarios your company may face in real time.
The Sum of All Connections
As I’ve been saying for a while, we need to start taking a more Bayesian approach to strategy in which we are not trying so hard to “get it right” as much as we are trying to become less wrong over time. Products like Tidemark will help us get there.
Yet there is also another paradigm shift that is possibly more important. Historically, corporate strategy has been largely devoted to optimizing operations across the value chain and firms have achieved competitive advantage largely by accumulating efficiencies from that process of continuous improvement.
However, as digital technology has become more pervasive, much of that optimization process has become automated and the competitive environment is not made up so much of companies and industries, but networks of ecosystems. Advantage has become less about efficiencies and more about widening and deepening connections to information.
And that I think is the real potential for enterprise transformation. It’s been over 50 years since Marshall McLuhan first envisioned that technology would create a global village and, in everyday life that’s largely become true, although you wouldn’t know it from the way most business are run today. That has to change.
Information wants to be free. It’s time to create that our enterprise systems begin to behave less like gatekeepers and more like facilitators.